A Burbank construction worker, dubbed “the Valley spanker” by law enforcement officials who persuaded the prostitutes he had raped to come forward and testify, was sentenced Wednesday to 170 years in state prison.
As he sentenced 39-year-old Vincent Paul Fanelli II for multiple sex and torture convictions, Superior Court Judge Sandy R. Kriegler rejected defense arguments that the women, by offering sex for money, were not conventional rape victims.
Instead, the judge said, the women, who were smaller than Fanelli, were especially vulnerable when they entered his car and were driven to secluded spots, where Fanelli forced sexual services from them.
Fanelli was convicted last month by a jury that spent less than two hours in deliberations before finding him guilty on 31 rape, sex and torture charges involving four women, all admitted prostitutes. The attacks occurred between March 10 and April 5 in Pacoima, Van Nuys and North Hollywood.
Even to the end, Fanelli denied he had done anything wrong except to cheat on his wife by picking up prostitutes.
Fanelli’s lawyer, John Daley, argued Fanelli never would have been convicted were it not for the women’s movement 30 years ago--remarks that offended the prosecutor, police detective and others in the courtroom.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Korban said Fanelli and his lawyer “really dehumanized the women involved. The message was, ‘You can do anything to a prostitute.’ ”
So ended a remarkable and emotionally volatile case that involved gender-charged issues and prosecution witnesses usually marginalized by and suspicious of the criminal justice system.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, one of the victims said she felt angry during the trial, and that Fanelli and his lawyer treated the victims “like we were zero.” She added, “He shouldn’t have been buying it and we shouldn’t have been selling it.”
But the 28-year-old Valley woman added she was gratified that police, prosecutors and jurors had believed her story. Fanelli’s lengthy sentence was “almost better than Christmas,” she said.
LAPD Det. Greg Stone hailed the jury’s verdict and the lengthy sentence as “another step forward for society” and “a victory for victims.” He said while he was offended that the defense impugned the victims, making an issue of “the fact they were not Susie Homemaker,” the tactic apparently backfired.
“These issues are a matter of consent, a matter of choice, and a matter of whether these women deserved to be treated that way,” Stone said. “I don’t think you can abuse them, misuse them or mistreat them just because they are prostitutes.”
He also praised the victims for coming forward, despite their fears they would not be believed or that “society would shun them” because of their profession.
Fanelli’s family members said outside the courtroom that they support him, and vowed to appeal.
His father, Vincent Paul Fanelli, said the charges probably stemmed “from a transaction gone sour.” He added that family members were “100% behind Paul” and believe the charges were blown out of proportion. “We believe in our hearts that they were contracted liaisons.”
According to a probation report contained in the court file, Fanelli’s wife of six years believes he is innocent. If her husband did anything wrong, it was not paying for some of the sexual services he received, she told Deputy Probation Officer Stephen Hubert. His wife was aware he had been frequenting prostitutes for about 10 years, the report stated.
Fanelli told the probation officer that he began picking up prostitutes in the Valley when his marriage became strained over financial setbacks in 1994. After being cheated by the women, he said he “started making a game of it,” the report stated. “They would take his money and he would try to get as much from them as possible.”
“He denies being a serial rapist or predator and feels sorry for the victims for believing he did something wrong against them” Hubert wrote. Fanelli told the probation officer that “the only thing he did wrong was ‘messing around’ while married. He was not violent and except for the spanking, never hurt or choked anyone.”
But prosecutor Korban labeled Fanelli a sexual sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain on his victims. “He was far and away the most frightening person I have every prosecuted,” she said.